Pro Techniques 12.2003


Pro Techniques from Matt Rocker

By Randy Alberts


Matt Rocker and his mobile studio

Composer, supervising sound editor, musician, and sound designer Matt Rocker was in the middle of an 11th hour ADR (automatic dialog replacement) session for Senses of Place, a Vermont-based indie film, in his Brooklyn loft studio this summer when suddenly every light, computer, air conditioner, and LED in the place shut down. Sitting there in the dark, he and Senses of Place writer/producer Matthew Temple and lead actor Henry David Clarke had no idea that 50 million other Canadian and U.S. residents were experiencing the same phenomenon: the worst power shutdown in the continent's history.

Rocker and his colleagues didn't yet know the scale of the disaster, but they did know they had a pair of Apple Titanium PowerBooks, a good mic, and an Mbox on hand, and still had 24 hours to make the film's scheduled edit, mix, color correction, video, and film transfer dates — and ultimately the Sundance Film Festival deadline.

Mbox: Commando ADR Recording 101
Temple and Clarke had to be back in Brattleboro, Vermont, later that day, so Rocker knew that if they didn't get the ADR lines done immediately, they'd have to pass on Sundance. "Luckily I had recommended to Matthew [Temple] that he buy an Mbox to review my edits and the music mixes right on his laptop, wherever he goes," says Rocker, who bought his own Mbox shortly after the outage. "We had the ADR session up and running again in a matter of minutes with our two Titaniums, my Sennheiser shotgun mic, and the Mbox. Matthew had been using the Mbox to collaborate with Tom "T-Bone" Wolk, who wrote the music, so we had it there. I had been running the ADR session at my place with a G4 and Pro Tools TDM, and regularly backing up everything to a bus-powered VST FireWire drive before the grid shut down. I was able to use the phantom power on the Mbox and a battery-powered DV camera for picture, and isolate Henry far enough away from me to get ADR tracks that sound as good as the tracks done previously on the TDM system."


Senses of Place

Rocker is just two years out of graduate school, yet his resume reads much older. He's recorded six albums of his own music, composed a piece for the Salt Lake City Olympics, and contributed to numerous art installations, including Matthew Barney's ongoing Cremaster Cycle 3 at the Guggenheim. He was a music editor/conformist on Academy Award-winning "Best Sound" movie Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, and has been fulfilling his passion for animation by recording ADR for Pokemon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Sonic The Hedgehog at 4 Kids Productions. His most recent gig is music editor for the television show Ed on NBC. But he's more stoked about the new Mbox he just bought than blowin' his own horn.

"Pro Tools LE 6 and the Mbox are amazing for a number of reasons," he says. "Having all the 'Command Focus' shortcuts available in LE means I can work the exact same way on my laptop as I do on my desktop TDM system. For ADR recording, and for film sound in general, Pro Tools has really become ubiquitous."

The T-Bone's Connected To The…Mbox
Matthew Temple wanted a way to review Senses of Place composer T-Bone Wolk's Pro Tools sessions on his laptop, so Rocker suggested the Mbox as an option so that they could send the evolving Senses sessions back and forth. Touring as a bassist with Hall & Oates meant T-Bone's time was extremely limited, so Temple and Rocker needed to really work on the fly. But they never expected to wing it quite like they did that afternoon in Matt's Brooklyn loft.

"It was quite serendipitous that Matthew was using his new Mbox to collaborate indirectly with T-Bone, because that Mbox saved us. It's sort of a litmus test to be able to keep working even during a power outage, or sitting in an airport, or flying in a plane, knowing that wherever you are you have the same tools in both places, right at your fingertips."

Rocker continues, "I definitely see people doing more mobile recording than before. "People are using the Mbox for ADR recording, and as a sort of expansion chassis for their HD and TDM systems. That's how they recorded a lot of the ADR for Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers. For ADR and film work in general, timecode is absolutely essential. Not having that was a serious limitation of Pro Tools LE before, but the DV Toolkit for Pro Tools 6 could now have a big impact for those applications. It's certainly easier to transport a Digi 002 or an Mbox than to haul a rack around with an expansion chassis, interface, and preamps."


Pro Technique 1 —
Creating three-beep cues for ADR sessions, the easy way

Compared to music or voiceover recording, ADR recording adds a layer of complexity: Besides requiring professional-level talent, good equipment, and a nimble engineer, re-recording dialogue involves the technical challenges of lip sync between sound and picture.

To help keep actors in sync with their original dialogue, a cueing method called "beeps" or "three-beeps" is usually employed. There are several hardware and software solutions available for cueing beeps within Pro Tools, but Matt suggests that the simplest path with Pro Tools LE is to create a three-beep file that can be played back on a dedicated beep track.

"To create a three-beep," Rocker explains, "use a signal generator to create two 500 kHz sine tones and a 1 kHz sine tone that are each 50 to 100 milliseconds long. Next, use Pro Tools in Grid mode to place these tones one second apart, then use the 'Duplicate' function in AudioSuite to consolidate the three-second region, starting on the first beep. The region should be placed directly before the line the actor is being cued for, so that the imaginary 'fourth beat' one second later is their cue and their entrance to the line."

Where in the Pro Tools ADR session do you place a three-beep?

"I've found the best way to set accurate beeps is to place your cursor insertion point at the beginning of the waveform for the line you are replacing," says Rocker. "Paste the beeps into the beep track, and then move the tail of the beep file so it's aligned with that location. You do this by pressing 'k' in Command Focus mode to 'Snap End To Play.' Don't forget to check that your edit and timeline selections are linked."

Pro Technique 2 —
Looping and organizing ADR recording sessions

Actors working in ADR sessions generally prefer to take several passes at a given line consecutively, and Matt says the best way to accommodate this is to set up a loop recording that includes the three-beep in each pass.

"It's usually a good idea to give a generous amount of pre- and post-roll and pre- and post-record time in your Preferences, to allow the actor to deviate and take breaths," he explains. "When loop recording, each subsequent pass will have the same region name, with an amended take number for each pass. It can also save a lot of editing time if the director or an assistant takes notes about which takes they like best on the script or ADR sheet as we go along."

On projects like Senses of Place, where there's limited time to finish the ADR sessions, Rocker will just leave all the takes on one Pro Tools track. He knows that later he can scroll through his choices using the Takes list pop-up menu.

"Just Control + click on the looped region with the Pro Tools I-beam tool," Rocker concludes. "That's when taking notes for the director's choices becomes critical. If the session is more leisurely, I may set up a number of blank tracks below the record track, and pull down each candidate take as we go. I arrange them in order from best to worst, going from the top track to the bottom. Also, be sure to record each new character voice on a new track."